Long-time readers of this website no doubt drink large quantities of tea and coffee. It might then be the socially responsible thing to consider going green with your caffeine intake. In this article, we’ll examine the in’s and out’s of the question “can tea bags be composted?” and what some of the caveats might be to composting tea bags. Spoiler alert: there is more to it than it seems.
We’ll start by going over why you should care about composting your tea bags, providing an overview of the benefits and the complications of composting tea bags, and looking at ways to improve our carbon footprint even more than just composting.
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If you’re a daily tea drinker and you don’t currently compost your teabags you might be wondering if it’s even worth the effort. After all, it is such a small bag, how much impact can it have. Well, the answer is that it can have a sizeable impact.
Not as big as if you composted all of your trash, but more than one might think. Let’s take a look at the math. In one teabag, there is generally around 2g of tea, the bag itself weighs around 0.27g. If you drink tea every day that’s about 1.8 lbs of trash you could have saved from the landfill and put to use in your backyard. If we scale that number to the total population of the US it’s much higher.
Wikipedia claims that people in the US drink around 8 gallons per capita, which in tea bags is 128 tea bags. If we scale that over the population of the US you get a net total of 100,000 tons of waste per year.
Tea leaves are a great addition to your compost as they are nitrogen-rich as opposed to carbon-rich. Most compost material tends to be carbon-rich and brown-colored. Nitrogen is considered the most essential component for plant growth and is a key constituent of Chlorophyll which gives plants their green color.
Tea leaves can be composted and are a great ingredient in any compost pile, but can tea bags be composted without complications not always.
A market survey performed by “Which Gardening” found that six out of the seven largest tea bag manufacturers do not use fully decomposable tea bags. They found that the bags were made out of around 30% polypropylene, or in other words, plastic. This will come as quite a shock to a lot of the more health-conscious readers, more so than being unable to fully compost, but it means that you’ve been soaking plastic in boiling water and drinking the water afterward.
If you are drinking tea bags with polypropylene my first word of advice is to stop and find a source of tea bags that are natural without any plastic, and my second piece of advice is to tear open the bag before composting to allow the tea inside to decompose even if the bag doesn’t.
Going Fully Green
If you want to leap to being an ethical consumer and producing the minimum amount of waste possible there’s truly no substitute for buying loose leaf tea. There are even shops that will sell you loose leaf tea in bulk, at much lower prices than tea bags, and you can even bring your containers.
This takes out the paper involved with the tea bags, you get fresher tea for lower prices, and there doesn’t necessarily have to be any packaging involved if you have your containers. The only difficulty with buying loose leaf tea is that you will need a way to brew your tea, usually with a tea ball strainer made out of metal or a metal mesh.
The mesh tends to work better as sometimes metal tea ball strainers have holes that are too big and end up letting some tea particles out into your drink. The extra benefit of brewing tea this way is there is no paranoia about plastic being part of your brewing process.
So, there you have it. Ultimately, the answer to “Can tea bags be composted?” is a solid yes, but keep an eye out for the composition of your teabag as manufacturers are known for using plastic to increase the durability of their products.
With an extra tip that if you want to be carbon neutral with your tea drinking consider switching to loose leaf tea brewing. There’s a whole world full of people, but nothing is going to change if we aren’t willing to.